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Common Word, Common Lord

Common Word, Common Lord

My Jihad: Loss and Heartbreak

In the Name of God, the Compassionate and Infinitely Merciful

This was my contribution to the My Jihad campaign, a national effort spearheaded right here in Chicago, to reclaim the term Jihad from the Muslim and anti-Muslim extremists alike.

Loss and Heartbreak

Every day, I get up early in the morning to try to help other people feel better by the Grace of God. Every day, I get up early – and sometimes come home very late – to help someone else have a little less pain. Every day, I live a dream come true: being a physician, and it is a blessing beyond measure.

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I work in the field of Pulmonary and Critical Care, and so – every day – I take care of people who have been ravaged by the destruction wrought by cigarette smoking. I see people who cannot breathe because their lungs have been destroyed by said cigarette smoke, and I try to help them breathe a little better. In addition, I take care of patients who are critically ill and must stay in the intensive care unit for a time. In many instances, these patients are so sick to be near death.

And it is my honor to work as hard as I can to bring them out of their life-threatening illness. Being a doctor is a tough life, and many times it is a struggle that can be overwhelming. But is a struggle that I am privileged to undertake. Most of the time, by the Grace of God, the medical team and I are successful, and our patients can live to see many more years of life.

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Sometimes, however, despite doing everything humanly possible, the medical team and I are not successful, and our patients succumb to their disease. And many times, I unfortunately must give families the bad news and help counsel them through the profound grief at the loss of their loved one. Yet, one time, the tables were turned on my wife and me.

It was on the day our daughter passed away.

Our eldest daughter was afflicted by a crippling genetic disorder called Ataxia-Telangiectasia, and as a result of this illness, she developed Diffuse Large B-cell lymphoma. After undergoing six cycles of chemotherapy, she developed septic shock: an overwhelming systemic response to infection. And despite a truly heroic effort on the part of her medical team, she lost her battle and passed away on June 7, 2009.

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Ever since that day, my heart has been searing from a pain that is truly indescribable. Ever since that day, my wife and I have tried to pick up the pieces of our shattered hearts and try to move on. Indeed, the Lord has not abandoned us in our tragedy. He has given us so much joy in the years since. Nevertheless, the pain of her loss is still so fresh, so acute, that I sometimes cannot breathe from the agony.

What’s worse, everything at work reminds me of her affliction. Every ICU room looks like the one in which she died. Every time a patient needs to breathe with the help of a special BiPAP machine, it can remind me of when she went through the same thing. When I stand at the bedside of a patient with a similar type of shock, it reminds me of those truly horrific hours when my daughter was clinging to the shards of her fragile life. And I when I try to comfort a husband, or a wife, or a mother, or a daughter, or a son -screaming out in pain at the death of their loved one – it gives me a terrible pain in my heart as well.

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There is not a day that goes by that I don’t remember my beautiful daughter and remember the terrible torture of having to watch her die in front of my eyes. There is not a day that goes by that my heart doesn’t scream out in horror that I lost my baby forever. Sometimes, I want to literally scream out – to try to comfort the devastating torment I endure each and every day.

But I don’t, and that is my Jihad.

“Jihad” is Arabic for “struggle,” and in Islam, “Jihad” is the sacred struggle to bring good in this world. It can mean different things to different people. For me, my Jihad is to keep myself together and not shrink away into a world of grief and sadness.

I do this for the sake of my wife, to try to be there for her and help comfort her even greater agony and terror. I do this for the sake of my surviving children, so they can know a happy life and not one with constant sadness. And I do this for the sake of my critically ill patients, so I can think clearly about the proper treatment plan they need so they can get better.

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But, it is really, really hard.

And so, each and every day, I reach out to the Lord for His help and His comfort. I reach out to The Lord for His grace and mercy because, without Him, there is no way I could have made it this far. But, even with God’s help, the pain is still there, for losing a child is the worst thing a parent can endure. And it is a Jihad I will have to endure for the rest of my life.

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An Immaculate Event For This Muslim

She was alone, as she was wont to do, worshiping in the Eastern part of the Temple when a stranger entered into her presence. Startled, she immediately did what she knew best: turn to her Lord for protection.

“I seek refuge from you,” she told the stranger, “with the Most Gracious. Approach me not if you are conscious of Him!”

Yet, this was no brigand or criminal. He was a Holy Messenger, sent from the One on High, and he sought to assuage her fear: “I am but a messenger of thy Lord, who says: ‘I shall bestow upon thee the gift of a son endowed with purity.'”

She was shocked at this news.

“How can I have a son when no man has ever touched me, and I have not been an unchaste woman?” she asked in terror.

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The Angel, again, sought to assuage her fear: “Thus it is, but your Lord says: ‘This is easy for Me! You shall have a son so that We might make him a symbol for humanity and an act of grace from Us. And it was a thing decreed by God.'”

And thus, as everyone knows, Mary became with the child Jesus.

This story that I quoted here is not found in the Bible. I took it from the Qur’an: Chapter 19, verses 16-21. In fact, the story of the birth of Christ is all over the Qur’an, as is the birth of Mary herself:

When a woman of [the House of] `Imran prayed: “O my Lord! Behold, to You do I vow [the child] that is in my womb, to be devoted to Thy service. Accept it, then, from me: verily, You alone art all-hearing, all-knowing!”

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But when she had given birth to the child, she said: “O my Lord! Behold, I have given birth to a female” – the while God had been fully aware of what she would give birth to, and [fully aware] that no male child [she might have hoped for] could ever have been like this female – “and I have named her Mary. And, verily, I seek Your protection for her and her offspring against Satan, the accursed.”

And thereupon her Lord accepted the girl-child with goodly acceptance, and caused her to grow up in goodly growth… (3:35-37)

In fact, it is this event that Catholics the world over commemorate in their Feast of the Immaculate Conception, which is December 8. When I attended Marquette University, a Jesuit institution, I would get that day off, and it was always welcome. But, I had always thought that it was a day commemorating the conception of Christ. I was surprised – pleasantly – that it was about the Virgin Mary.

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She, and her magnificent son, have always been highly honored and revered in Islam. I have grown up holding Jesus (and his mother) in the highest regard, as a mighty and magnificent Prophet and the Messiah sent to the Children of Israel. In fact, the Qur’an points to the Virgin Mary as the archetype of the believer, whether male or female:

And [We have propounded yet another parable of God-consciousness in the story of] Mary, the daughter of Imran, who guarded her chastity, whereupon We breathed of Our spirit into that [which was in her womb], and who accepted the truth of her Lord’s words – and [thus] of His revelations – and was one of the truly devout. (66:12)

No, as Muslims, we do not worship them as divine beings. That does not mean, however, that we hold them in contempt or would even fathom maligning them as, sadly, some followers Christ have done with our Prophet Muhammad.

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The bottom line is this: Muslims, Christians, and Jews have so much more in common than in distinction. We worship the self-same God of Abraham; we revere all of His Prophets; we are all called to work together for the common good of our world.

Is it not high time that we, the Children of Abraham, forgo differences in belief and come together as servants of, not only our Lord, but all of humanity?

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A Thanksgiving Prayer for Peace

In the Name of God, the Compassionate, the Infinitely Merciful 

I can only share in a tiny amount of the elation of the people of Israel and Palestine over the cease-fire that was negotiated today. That both Israelis and Palestinians can breathe a little sigh of relief that no more rockets and bombs will rain down upon them is a very good thing. Yet, sadly, we have seen this before. We have seen the crying faces of parents, children, and loved ones before. We have heard the screams of innocent people many times before. When will it end? When will the leaders of both sides gather the courage to finally forge a lasting peace so that both Palestinians and Israelis can look toward a future full of hope?

A cynic (or realist) will say that this day is still a long way off. Yet, with God all things are possible. Thus, during this season of giving thanks, I raise my hands up in prayer:

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Precious Beloved and Beautiful Lord our God!
Beautiful Holy One on High in Whose Hand lies all of our souls!
All Praise and Thanks go to You, Mighty King of Kings!
Lord! Precious Beloved! I thank Thee for the cessation of violence in the Holy Land.

Lord, I look at the crying faces of mothers, fathers, sons, and daughters and my heart cries out.
Lord, the cry of the child is no less heartbreaking whether it was Israeli or Palestinian.
Lord, the pain of the parent is no less horrific if it was Muslim, Christian, or Jew.

And so, my Beautiful Majestic Lord, please bring peace to the Holy Land!
Bring peace to the land which You have blessed for all time!
Bring peace to the place upon which Your Prophets and Messengers have tread!
Silence the guns of hatred and the rockets of malice for all time, O Lord!

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Politicians and leaders do not have the courage to bring peace
So, Lord, give them that courage they so sorely lack!
Precious Beloved, let the smiles of children reign supreme in the Holy Land!
Let the laughter of children be the only noise that disturbs the silence of Peace!

Lord our God, both sides in this conflict raise their hands to You in prayer!
So, Bring the children of Abraham together in peace as the brothers and sisters they were meant to be
Bring an end to the violence and let the Holy Land be a place of safety and sanctuary
Let not the Holy Land ever be a place where the thud of bombs and rockets are commonplace

Let the Holy Land be a place of peace and solace
Let the Holy Land ring with the praises of Your Holy Name
Let the Holy Land be a place where we can all be one in Your Love

In Your Most Holy Name I do ask these things. Amen.

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Go Out And Vote

In the Name of God, the Compassionate and Infinitely Merciful 

I am tired of the election season. As I write this, a political campaign ad is playing on the TV. It is the same one I have seen time, after time, after time, after time, after time. I think half of our recycling bin is political campaign flyers. I don’t think I can take much more of this…

Still, despite my weary fatigue of politics, I voted early last Thursday. I took my daughter with me as well. There was no way I could not vote. In fact, I believe it is my sacred, religious duty to vote.

Islam demands excellence of me in every aspect of my life: excellence in my spiritual life; excellence in my social life; excellence in my family life; and excellence in my civic life. The Quran tells me that: “You are indeed the best community brought forth for [the good] of humanity: you enjoin the doing of good, forbid the doing of evil, and you believe in God.” (3:110)

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That means that I must do as much as I can to promote the common good, and this has to include voting in every single election. Ideally, I should hold public office to try to help promote the common good myself. But, I am not cut out for politics; I am not cut out for a life in public service; I love being a doctor too much to leave it aside for a political career.

But I can vote, and thus I must do so in each and every election. It is the very least I can do for my country. My faith demands nothing less of me.

So, go out on November 6 and vote. Make your voice be heard.

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